Locating Ravana’s Lanka - II
by Jayasree Saranathan on 11 Jan 2024 1 Comment

The entire landmass of Sri Lanka was called Lanka in the inscriptions of the Cholas written a thousand years ago, but in the ‘Brihat Samhita’, written by Varahamihira fifteen hundred years ago, a separate country called Sinhala is mentioned along with the name of Lanka (14: 11-16). As far as we know, the people in Sri Lanka are Sinhalese and therefore the whole of Sri Lanka is also known as Sinhala. This is supported by the verse of poet Bharathiyaar that he would prefer a bridge to the ‘Sinhala’ island.


Apart from these two names, Sri Lanka is also known as Ceylon. There is another name appearing in the inscriptions of King Ashoka, as ‘Tambapanni’. Greek historians, such as Megasthenes, have mentioned Sri Lanka as ‘Taprobane’, which appears to be a distortion of the name ‘Tambapanni’. For these reasons, scholars are of the opinion that Ravana’s Lanka could not have existed in Sri Lanka. Such views question the authenticity of the Ramayana itself and we need to establish the location of Ravana’s Lanka without doubt.


Lanka in inscriptions


To find out the original name, let us go back from present to past. The name Sri Lanka came into force in official records from 1972 onwards. Before that the country was known as Ceylon, a name coined by the Portuguese in the 16th century when they came in search of a country called ‘Seylan’ in their language on the maps. When they landed in Sri Lanka, they thought that they had found the land they were looking for and started calling it as Seylan which ultimately became Ceylon.


The entire island of Sri Lanka was known as Lanka by the people of our country as we look for the name in the inscriptions of Tamil kings. To quote the Tiruvalangadu copper plates issued by Rajendra Chola, the name Lanka appears for the entire Sri Lanka in the context of mentioning Rajaraja  Chola crossing the sea with his naval force. This deed of Rajaraja Chola was compared with Rama who crossed the sea with his army of Vanaras. It says,


“The lord of the Raghavas (i.e., Rama) constructing a bridge across the water of the ocean with (the assistance of) able monkeys, killed with great difficulty the king of Lanka (i.e., Ravana) with sharp-edged arrows; (but) this terrible General of that (king Arunmolivarman alias Rajaraja Chola) crossed the ocean by ships and burnt the Lord of Lanka. Hence Rama is (surely) surpassed by this (Chola General).” (verse 80)


Though the intent of this verse is to eulogise Rajaraja as being superior to Rama, these lines offer valuable evidence for Ravana’s Lanka in Sri Lanka. This is the only copper plate that states the construction of a bridge by the Vanaras across the sea between the Chola country and Sri Lanka.


Sinhala and Tambappani in Sri Lanka


The names Sinhala and Tambappani appeared much earlier according to ‘Mahavamsa’, which describes the royal dynasties of the then Sri Lanka and the way Buddhism spread. On the day Gautama Buddha left this world, Vijaya landed at the northern part of Sri Lanka by a ship from Bengal. On seeing the sand on the shore in copper colour he called the place ‘Thamravarni’. When Buddhism spread, Pali was also spoken there, and it became known as Thambappani in Pali. This area is Jaffna in the northern part of Sri Lanka and the whole of Sri Lanka is not given this name.


The origin of the name Sinhala is traced to Vijaya’s story. His father’s name was Simhabahu or Sihabaahu – a name he got for restraining a lion. The city where he lived was also called Simhapura. His son Vijaya was named Vijayasimha. For these reasons, the region of Sri Lanka where Vijaya landed got the name Sinhala. The people who came with him were called Sinhalese. The northern Sri Lanka occupied by them was named after them as Sinhala. The name didn’t apply to the entire island.


These names arose when Vijaya arrived around 500 B.C., but Sri Lanka was referred to as Lanka only in the Mahavamsa. At the time of Vijaya’s arrival, only two cities existed in Lanka: one was ‘Sirisavattu’ (a Pali variant of Shirishavastu) in northern Lanka, and the other was Lankapuri in the South.


The Mahavamsa states that Lankapuri existed in the hilly region of southern Lanka where Yakshas lived. This is reiterated in the hymns of Alwars too. For example, Tirumangai Alwar says that Surpanakha, after getting humiliated, reached the mountain of Lanka (Periya Tirumozhi: 3-9-4). Similarly, Ravana also told Sita the location of his city on a mountain (V.R: 3-47-29). 


Ravana’s capital


Only southern Lanka (we shall start referring to Sri Lanka as Lanka) is dotted with a group of mountains. To the east of Colombo and in the central part of the south, there are mountain peaks, where Lankapuri was situated. A Buddhist text called, Mahayana Lankavatara Sutra, states that Gautama Buddha preached on the hill of Lanka, the abode of Ravana. It describes Ravana as the king of Lanka and the chief of Yakshas who came to meet Gautama Buddha to listen to his preachings. This abode of Lanka mentioned in this text is known as Adam’s Peak today.


The entire first chapter of this text is about Buddha’s presence on the hill of Lanka and Ravana arriving in a flowery chariot to receive him to pay his respects. This can be easily dismissed as imagination, but what cannot be ignored as imagination is the reference to the hill as Lanka, the city of Ravana. The setting of this text is about 2500 years ago when Vijaya had not yet arrived. The author had obviously wanted to use Ravana’s name to promote Buddhism in Lanka and created an imaginary conversation of the Buddha imparting wisdom to Ravana. The choice of the location, that is the Hill of Lanka, was meant to make the story of Ravana meeting the Buddha appear real. So, one cannot doubt the identity of the hill - Adam’s Peak as the location of Ravana’s Lanka.


It is said that the account of Ravana’s arrival was not there in an earlier version of this book. However, there is no difference of opinion that the place where the teaching took place was the city of Ravana’s Lanka. This story might have helped to spread Buddhism in Lanka, but it is a moot question why the knowledge about Ravana’s Lanka in that mountain remained unknown to the people of Lanka. The probable answer lies in the fact that this text was not popular as Mahayana was replaced by Theravada Buddhism long ago in Lanka.


However, the hill remained in memory as an important location where Buddha stayed. Ravana was forgotten, and the hill is remembered for Buddha’s association. Lanka’s Buddhism has made the Ramayana forgotten. Buddhism, which took root in Lanka 2,500 years ago, has destroyed the links to the Ramayana that happened many years ago. The city of Ravana, which refers to the main peak of the hilly south, was used to take advantage of the old history.


The description given in Valmiki Ramayana applies to this peak. Lanka was like Amaravati; yes, it is. For most times, the pinnacle of the hill is obscured by clouds and mist looking as though it is hanging from the sky. This mountain is referred to as Swarga, and named Swargarohana, which corrupted into ‘Rohana’ mountain in course of time.  This mountain is also known as Malaya and Lanka. It is a place of natural beauty that almost every religious community claimed ownership of this mountain whenever they gained an upper hand over others.


The Ramayana refers to Ravana’s Lanka as ‘Trikuta’ peak (V. R. 5-2-1). Trikuta means three peaks or three humps. There is no mountain with three peaks in southern Lanka, but with three facades, Adam’s peak fulfils the meaning of Trikuta. The Ramayana says that Ravana’s Trikuta mountain resembles Mount Kailash (V.R: 5-2-23). Amazingly, the peaks of Kailash and Trikuta appear similar.


Mount Kailash and Ravana’s Trikuta Mountain


Perhaps that is why Kubera, who had built the city of Lanka, moved to Mt. Kailash when Ravana took away Lanka from him. Protection by Lord Shiva residing in Kailash was another reason for his choice of Kailash.  


Since Ravana was a devotee of Lord Shiva, the Trikuta hill on which he lived came to be known as ‘Sivanolipaada Malai’ (Mountain of the Light of Shiva’s Feet). In course of time, this changed into ‘Samanoli Malai’ (Mountain of the Light of Saman). It is said in Manimekalai (twin epic of Silappadhikaram) that Buddhist pilgrims used to circumambulate the Samanoli Hill in Lanka before visiting the Buddhist Viharas of Kanchi (Manimekalai: Ch- 28: line 107). Saman refers to Saman Deva, a Buddhist who lived on this hill and became the guardian deity of this mountain after his death. It is said that when Gautama Buddha came to Lanka, he met Saman and imparted knowledge to him. The worship of Saman on this hill also paved the way for completely erasing the memory of Ravana long ago when Lanka was less populated.


Standing on top of this hill, Hanuman observed the surroundings and thought about how to enter the city of Lanka (V.R.: 5-2-32). From the structure of the hill, this version of the Ramayana looks plausible, as the peak is tapering on a raised mountainous area. Ravana’s city must have been widespread on the entire hill region with the peak uniquely rising as a cone, often hidden by clouds. It must have been bound by a triangular wall, which the Tamil Sangam texts say was broken by Rama.


On top of the hill, there are two caves called ‘Bhagava Cave’ and ‘Dheeva Cave’. Sita could have been imprisoned in the forest on the slopes of the hill. From the top of the hill, the sea is visible on the west, and whoever comes through the sea can be seen from the mountain itself. The fact that gems are found around the hill also concurs with the Ramayana version of the abundance of gems (ratna) in Lanka. For thousands of years, people have climbed the hill from a place called Ratnapura at the foothills.


The hill was claimed by many from the time Buddhism spread in Lanka until the recent British rule, however, for the most part in the last two thousand years, the hill was associated with Buddhism only. The image of a foot carved on a boulder found on the summit is venerated as the footprint of Gautama Buddha commemorating his visit to the mountain. The sacredness attached to this footprint has made this mountain a pilgrim spot for the Buddhists besides lending its name ‘Sripada’ to the mountain. Today no one recognises this mountain by its olden name as Lanka but only as Sripada.




Although it is believed that the engraved foot represents Gautama Buddha, there is no evidence in support of it. The carving had existed since before the Common Era and no one knew about it until king Valagambha discovered it in 104 B.C.E. The king was on a hunting spree chasing a deer that climbed this peak when he accidentally discovered this footprint. In course of time, people began to believe that it was the foot of the Buddha.


In the absence of knowledge of who created it and for whose memory, its location on the Mountain of Lanka raises a question of whether it was a pre-historic carving created to represent Rama’s victory over Ravana. Knowledge about Ramayana did not disappear in Lanka before Buddhism entered – a fact confirmed by the existence of folk stories on Ramayana that were said to have been enacted during the reign of Panduvasadeva, the second Sinhalese king who succeeded Vijaya. Though the folk versions differ from the original Ramayana, the prevalence of those stories among the local people before Buddhism got rooted in Lanka is proof of the historicity of Ravana and hence the Ramayana. This must be borne in mind while analysing the pre-historic carving of Sripada.   


In the long history of more than two thousand years of Buddhism in Lanka, only for a short period of a couple of centuries, i.e., the 16th and the 17th centuries, this hill became sacred for the Hindus when the nearby Kandy region was ruled by the Hindu kings. At all other times, it remained sacred to the Buddhists as Sripada Mountain. As a result, the history of Ramayana has been forgotten and distorted in Lanka. Until recently, Sri Lankans did not believe that the Ramayana was a true history, one reason being Ravana was a negative character; another reason was the sway of Buddhism over the masses. Only archaeological excavations in the Sripada peak and surrounding mountainous regions can bring out the secrets buried in this mountain.  


Vibhishana remembered in Lanka


Vibhishana, however, is remembered and venerated throughout Lanka since time immemorial. The kings of different regions of Lanka have not forgotten Vibhishana, even though Ravana was forgotten. After the death of Ravana and the burning of his capital by Rama, Vibhishana does not seem to have lived on the hill. Based on the Sandesha Kaavyas of Lanka, we deduce that Vibhishana lived in a place called ‘Kalyana’ which is known as Kelaniya in Pali (or Kalani in Tamil). This place is close to the western shore near Colombo. Vibhishana is mentioned as ‘Utpalavarna’ (lotus coloured) in these texts.


Many literary works of Lanka written in different periods in different kingdoms speak about the temple of Vibhishana at Kelaniya. Many kings have worshipped Vibhishana, seeking his blessings to get back or retain their kingdoms, like how he was given the kingdom by Rama. Some texts refer to him housed in the temple of Kelaniya as Rama and some others as Vishnu. However, the text Hamsa-Sandeshaya (Swan’s message) tells in clear terms that Vibhishana was anointed as the king of Lanka by Rama.


This temple also is converted into a Buddhist shrine and Vibhishana’s memory is confined only to the outer walls of this temple. Murals depicting the crowning of Vibhishana are the only reminder of Ramayana connection to this place. The existence of this temple of Vibhishana and the literary works of Lanka connecting this place to Vibhishana stand as testimony to the fact that Lanka of Ravana was in Sri Lanka only.


The identity of Ravana


The Mahavamsa says that the Yakshas were the original inhabitants of Lanka. Kubera was a Yaksha, and Ravana himself told Sita that he had taken away Lanka from Kubera (V.R: 3-48-5). Kubera must have looked like his Yaksha mother, ‘Ilavila’. Visravas, the father of Kubera, was born to Pulastya who must have belonged to the Maanava clan (Manu’s lineage). He fathered Ravana by his marriage with Kaikasi, born in the Rakshasa clan.  


Ravana must have resembled his mother in appearance. In a couple of places, Valmiki says that Ravana was big like Mount Mandara, dark as a black cloud and had a good neck structure (V.R: 5-22-24). Earlier we pointed out that Sumali, the maternal grandfather of Ravana, might have lived in Somalia in East Africa. If this is true, the description of Ravana’s appearance appears to be of African descent. He controlled Yakshas, the natives of Lanka, who must have appeared like Kubera that we see in paintings and statues in temples.


His younger brother Vibhishana was not like Ravana, either in character or in appearance. His name as “Utpalavarna” shows that he was not dark like his brother, Ravana. Perhaps he resembled his father in colour, like a Manava. He didn’t seem to have ruled the Yakshas who were under the control of Ravana. (Even the Lankavatara Sutra refers to Ravana as the Lord of Yakshas). They were left to fend for themselves after Ravana’s death. Perhaps the migration of Vibhishana from Lanka to Kelaniya indicates that he cut off any connection with the Yakshas having allegiance to Ravana.


As we search for the location of Yakshas and what happened to them later, we come across some amazing inputs in the caves around Ravana’s mountain. There are many caves at the foothills of the hills of south-central Lanka where archaeological studies have been conducted.


The caves where the Yakshas lived at the foothills of Trikuta Hill


Early human skeletons are found in these caves. It is now established that a different kind of human beings – though anatomically similar to homo sapiens – were living in these caves 35,000 years ago. Based on the location, they were named as ‘Balangoda Man’.


From the skeletal remains it is known that they had large body, short neck (neckless appearance), chubby nose, protruding eyebrows and conspicuously large teeth. By these descriptions, they almost resembled what we see as the figure of Kubera, the Yaksha. Such figures are seen on South Indian temple walls as weight bearers. Throughout Southeast Asia, such kind of images are found. He was the primordial man of Lanka.


Ravana, the son of Kaikasi, made these Yakshas obey him. Ravana’s neck was well-structured (V-R: 5-22-24). For the Yakshas who did not have a prominent neck, Ravana must have looked like a man with ten necks! Perhaps that made them address Ravana as ‘Dasagriva’ – the one with ten necks! In course of time, it gave rise to the name ‘Dasanana’ – the ten-faced.


The Yakshas (Balangoda man) and the Rakshasas (black people from Ravana’s maternal home) must have been controlled by Ravana. He maintained an army consisting of these people. Those who could not be controlled or satisfied were sent to Dandakaranya to trouble the hapless sages living there. Rama came and destroyed them all. Many of the Yakshas in Lanka would have survived by the grace of Rama and Sita.


There is evidence of Yakshas living in Lanka up to 6500 B.C. They continued to live but their identity seemed to have undergone changes after that. Today, the aborigines of Lanka known as Veddas (Veduvar or hunter) are found to resemble the Balangoda Man genetically. It appears that they had mingled with Manavas and started looking like modern man. King Vijaya married a Yaksha woman only. Mahavamsa gives her name as Kuveni who hailed from Lankapuri in the southern mountainous region. According to this Buddhist text, Yakshas were confined to the hills of the south and led a secluded life. They were fierce and didn’t mingle with others. In fact, Lanka was not occupied by outsiders until Vijaya landed around the 5th century BCE. The Yakshas resented the marriage of Kuveni with Vijaya whom they killed later – so says the Mahavamsa.


There is no evidence of the Rakshasa clan living in Lanka after Ravana’s demise. With no roots in Lanka, those who migrated along with Ravana’s maternal relatives might have gone back. Only the Yakshas remained in Lanka.


The above inputs give rise to an opinion that Ravana’s time was only a few thousand years ago. Can it be so, given the fact that Rama lived in Treta Yuga, many lakhs of years ago?




1)     Adam’s Peak / Sripada:


2)    Mahayana Lankavatara Sutra: 



3)    Saman Deva: https://sripada.org/saman.htm



User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top